Category Archives: Family Travel

A lesson in reversing the van…

For most of my adult life I’ve always wanted to visit the town of Seventeen Seventy, locally referred to as “1770”. There’s something rather dreamy about visiting a sleepy seaside village named after a year. A tiny town, situated roughly 500km north of Brisbane and surrounded on three sides by the Coral Sea and Bustard Bay. It was the second landing site of Lieutenant James Cook and the crew of the Endeavour in May 1770 and is a huge part of Australian history.

The road into 1770 and nearby Agnes Water was not what I’d expected. I’d imaged a windy, coastal road that took in the beautiful vistas of the ocean. Instead, it was surrounded by dry, dense and rugged bushland. The little towns, like Rosedale, our picnic lunch stop, felt quite deserted and very remote.

As we arrived at the town of Agnes Water we checked Wikicamps for a good spot to stay and found a place called ‘Horizons Kangaroo Sanctuary & Camp Ground’ – 4.5 stars is almost as good as it gets, throw in some wildlife and the kids will be over the moon. We drove through the gates and the dirt road leading into the property gradually became narrower, more winding and then suddenly…very steep. Too steep. The X-trail could not pull the weight of the van up the hill and as the front wheels started slipping we decided it wasn’t safe to go any further. This was new. 100m up the hill with a ditch on one side and a drop off on the other the only way was down. We had to reverse. ”Just take a few deep breathes everyone”. I climbed out, worked out we had about 1 metre to work with and very slowly started guiding the car and van down the hill. Seriously not for the faint hearted! The kids didn’t fancy going off the edge – I’ve never seen them move so fast. They jumped out and agreed to meet us at the bottom.

We were doing ok until two backpacker filled campervans arrived behind us. You can just imagine their faces when they realised there was no way around and that they too, had to reverse. Fifteen gruelling minutes later with a small audience by now and we were back where we had started. I’m not sure if you know this but some campers just love watching the ‘newbies’ try to park and reverse their vans. They pull up a chair, make a cup of tea and watch the show. No pressure. Sometimes we get it right and sometimes (like yesterday) we get it horribly wrong. You’d think we’d have it mastered by now! We are getting better, I promise.

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As for our wildlife camping idea, it was obvious that we were not going to be able to spend the night there so we headed off to the first available campsite and found ourselves on a flat, gravel free surface, right on the beach in 1770. A small wooden fence was all that separated us from the beach. The view over the bay was spectacular. This is one of the few places in Queensland where you can watch the sun set over the water. As we walked along the sand that evening, fishermen standing in the water and nearby pelicans hoping to steal a catch forming a backcloth of silhouettes, we now fully appreciated why this was such a popular holiday destination.

After breakfast the following day we took a leisurely stroll along the beach to a heritage listed site, a cairn situated on Round Hill. The cairn stands on the site where one of Cook’s crew carved the date on a tree near where they came ashore.

Rockhampton was our next destination and as we wanted to get there before dinner, we quickly packed up and headed straight off. We were going to have dinner with good friends that we hadn’t seen in years. There is only one way in and one way out of Agnes Water and 1770 and it’s quite a long, monotonous road. If you’re planning on visiting, allow yourself a few days there at the very least and don’t forget your fishing rod!

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I’d like to share a tip for all the future caravanners out there. A lovely family that we met on the cruise ship gave us very valuable advice when it comes to reversing a caravan. The person guiding the driver stands in front of the car and van reversing, facing the driver. If you want them to reverse the van to your left, call out ‘pull left’ at which point the driver pulls the steering wheel to their left and if you want them to reverse towards the right, ‘pull right’. It has saved us from embarrassment numerous times but especially in 1770!

 

You never know what you’ll find

No two adventures are ever the same.

Have you ever been to a place and had the time of your life only to hear that someone else went to the same place and had a completely different or even unpleasant experience? Could this be a combination of a person’s expectations, timing and maybe even a little bit of luck?

Our caravan adventure continued north on the Bruce Highway and when we saw the Childers turn off decided to take it and see what was there. Childers is a small rural town, about 60km west of Hervey Bay and is surrounded by thousands of hectares of sugar cane and avocado farms. Right across the road from where we had stopped to have a break was The Childers Historical Complex. This was just what we’d wanted to see! My son’s class had been on an excursion to a historical village soon after we’d left, he was so disappointed that he’d missed it. I’d hoped that this would make up for it. Some of the towns many historical buildings date back to Queensland’s early pioneering days so the historical village was in fact a real hidden gem. We had the whole place all to ourselves and for $3 we got a personalised tour of the complex. Our guide took us around the original Isis Central Mill School, a worker’s cottage, the Waluma Post Office, a general store and two steam locomotive displays. He then even took the time to unlock the garage and show us some of the old tractors and horse drawn wagons. The old general store was our family favourite. The kids were allowed to touch the items on display and they even had a go on the old cash register.

We picked up a ‘Southern Queensland’ guidebook from the local tourist information office and after a quick read through decided to head next to Woodgate Beach, described by Tripadvisor as ‘Queensland’s hidden secret’. A 16km white, sandy beach with crystal clear waters. When we arrived there, we were the only people on the beach besides two locals who were fishing with a small net. They’d caught some Whiting and heaps of bait fish. We all chipped in and helped them throw the bait fish back into the water which pleased the pelicans who had positioned themselves well for a feast. Three eagles, including an enormous white-bellied sea eagle swooped down within a few metres of us to collect the rest. We couldn’t believe how close we’d gotten to these amazing birds.

Our stop for the next two nights was at a fantastic campground in Elliott Heads, a town in the Bundaberg region of Queensland, situated at the mouth of the Elliott River. We’ve been using Wikicamps to help us finds the best places to stay. It’s a great app which has proven to be a very reliable and easy to use resource. Coral Cove, a few kilometres north of Elliott Heads has a reef offshore, popular with snorkelers and we heard divers coming up saying they’d just spotted some turtles.

Continuing our journey up to Bundaberg we passed fields of strawberries, sweet potatoes and sugar cane. Fresh produce can be purchased from little stalls alongside the road and it works on a good-will system where you just take your produce and drop the money into a billy can. We could see the trains running alongside the sugar cane fields and when we arrived at the Bundaberg Rum Distillery many of them were lined up, one after the other. The smell of sugar in the air was so strong and impossible to ignore. We didn’t do the tour of the distillery but instead decided to spend this time at the nearby and well-known Bundaberg Soft Drinks factory, home to the famous Bundaberg Ginger Beer. For $12 we got a family pass into an interactive tour of the history of ginger beer. The kids loved the old apothecary and hearing about how people sometimes got the recipe wrong and accidentally caused their homebrewed mix to explode. We loved this place and would recommend a stop here, young or old. After our tour, we were treated to a tasting of all their soft drinks, including the not yet released, delicious, Tropical Mango flavour.

Mon Repos, a short drive from Bundaberg, was a place we had wanted to visit for two reasons. Firstly, the Mon Repos Conservation Park supports the largest concentration of nesting marine turtles on the eastern Australian mainland and has the most significant loggerhead turtle nesting population in the South Pacific region. If you travel here in the summer months you can take an evening tour with a Queensland Parks and Service Ranger and witness them nesting or if you’re lucky enough, watch the tiny hatchlings dig their way out of the sand. Secondly, it was on Mon Repos that Bert Hinkler, the first man to fly solo from England to Australia, taught himself to fly as a teenager, in a glider made from pieces of wood, bicycle wheels and an ironing board.

Bundaberg’s many historical buildings are well conserved and much to my delight, still being utilised, even the old post office. The city’s art gallery is a great place to spend some time with the kids and on this particular day, was displaying aboriginal art from the National Museum. Another space in the gallery, known as “The Vault”, transported you to Antarctica as you lay on seal shaped bean bags listening to the sound of penguins in the distance, while penguins ‘popped out’ of the 3d artwork. We could have stayed here all day.

There is something quite liberating about going to bed not knowing what experiences the next day will bring. We are loving it. We don’t set any expectations on tomorrow and are just happy to be together, learning new things and embracing every opportunity.

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” Oliver Wendell Holmes Jnr.

 

Wandering through the streets of Suva

One of the most cosmopolitan and bustling cities in Oceania, Suva, the capital of Fiji, with its vibrant and colourful farmer’s market and stately buildings, dating back to colonial times, greeted us as we entered Suva Bay in the early morning.

With a population of over 86,000, Suva is home to half of Fiji’s urban population. As we wandered through the streets of Suva we passed the magnificent Houses of Parliament and a few luxury hotels overlooking the harbour. We didn’t feel under any threat, despite the warnings that petty crime has become a problem in the city. The influx of country dwellers and the city’s lack of infrastructure has triggered an increasing number of tin shelters being built on the outskirts of the city as well as the amount of people living in poverty.

After an easy, fifteen-minute walk from the port, we found ourselves at the quaint Fiji Museum, set within the once stately and magnificent Victorian-era Thurston Gardens. The museum contained examples of traditional Fijian canoes and other fascinating artefacts reflecting Fiji’s Chinese, Indian and Colonial history. Another interesting building and one of the most prominent landmarks within the city is the Sacred Heart Cathedral, a large catholic church dating back to 1902. Entry is free and you’ll be delighted when you step inside and see it’s beautiful, original stained-glass windows.

Our last stop for the day before boarding the ship and bidding farewell to our final port, was a visit to the vibrantly coloured fresh food market. Beetle nuts, unfamiliar tropical fruit and root vegetables lay spread out on the tables and the local vendors were happy to entertain us with the names and information about the fresh produce that lay before them.

Suva had a certain charm about it. It reminded me of a seaside city I used to visit when I was young. It too was multicultural, full of colonial history with its once magnificent water features and gardens, the sweet smell of Indian food cooking away in the distance and a harbour dotted with fishing boats and cargo ships.

Do you ever feel that travel has the ability to transport you back in time? Something as little as a smell from your childhood, bringing back to life a cherished memory from the past. It happens to me all the time….

 

Breathtaking Espiritu Santo

Halo from Vanuatu!

I got a bit excited on the first day of the cruise when they said you could buy unlimited premium internet access on the ship for just $99, little did I know they meant limited unlimited access. I’d love to have given you an update of our adventures before now but internet reception has been dismal. We’ve also been catching up on some much-needed sleep, I don’t think we’ve ever been so tired…The last week in our house was like a scene out of The Block. We were packing for the cruise, packing and organising the van and preparing the house for our much loved friends who are renting it for the next five months (you really don’t realise how many things need repairing until someone else is about to come and live in your house!).  Going from a 5 bedroom, 3 bathroom house to a 17 sqm cabin with just one bathroom has been interesting to say the least. I don’t know about your family but I always notice how out of sync we are the first few days of a trip.  It has been wonderful to reconnect with each other again though.

After two and a half days at sea we woke up to the beautiful shores of Luganville, a major export centre on the island of Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu. I was really sea sick the day before and therefore SO ready to get off the ship.  Unlike other times we’d cruised, I had no idea what we’d be seeing on Santo. We are not ‘follow the crowd’, ‘shore excursion’ travellers so hadn’t booked anything. I cannot think of anything worse than queuing to get on a bus with heaps of other tourists only to take us somewhere that we can visit on our own, for half the price. We decided to take our chances, catch a taxi from the port and see what the day brings. We negotiated a flat rate for the day and probably paid more than we should have, but we figured $140 for the whole day was pretty good value as there were four of us and could take our time exploring. Our awesome driver John did not disappoint us. The people on the island were incredibly inviting, kind and just loved the tourists. The island’s inhabitants are very poor (in the money sense) but evidently rich in other ways. We passed three schools which were all extremely basic, some of the classrooms didn’t have windows. According to our driver, basic education isn’t subsidised after year 7 and parents need to pay for high school education which is very expensive, resulting in many kids not finishing their educational journey. This made me incredibly sad and I wondered how they could improve their future outcomes without this opportunity.

There are potholes in the roads, dogs roaming the streets, the sweet smell of smoke coming from fires in the little houses and the washing lines are simply ropes strung out from a roof to a nearby tree.  Coconut plantations abound and cattle in the fields inland, Santo is world famous for its beef.

The Riri Blue Hole

We’d never visited one of these before so didn’t really know what to expect. When we got to the end of the dirt road we found a few of the locals sitting in a little thatched hut, we paid our $5 per person entry fee and made our way down the man-made path through the forest. The first sight of the water almost took our breathe away. It was almost transparent and very inviting with water warmer than I had expected. There also weren’t swarms of tourists around so it made the whole experience so much more enjoyable. A giant rope swing hung in the distance and we couldn’t resist. This thing is so big you needed a 6m wooden pole to grab the rope from its resting place. My husband went first and made it look easy with his upper body strength! Our son was next but got the jitters. I decided to be a good role model and ‘have a go’, it was AWESOME! I felt like a child again. And…it worked! Our son went next and then five times more! We were late for our driver but it was totally worth it!

Lope Lope Lodge

Our next stop for lunch was recommended to us by our driver and we were so glad he did. As we drove through the gates of Lope Lope Lodge we caught a glimpse of the turquoise waters that lay ahead and we knew we were about to experience something wonderful. A rare little hideaway tucked away behind a high wall. A nearly 180 degree view of crystal clear blue water with the reef lying about 100m offshore.  The open-air restaurant sits right on the water’s edge and the live music and warm hospitality made us wish we could stay here longer. We vowed we would return one day and even checked out the accommodation while we were there (they have but four cosy little villas that sit on the water’s edge). A tiny little piece of heaven. After a snorkel and a bite to eat we headed off to the next stop.

The cultural village

Having visited many cultural villages around the world before, I found this one to be truly authentic and definitely worth a visit with only a $10 per adult and $5 per child entry fee. We got to step into the men’s hut where they make the famous drink, Kava. They pound the root of the Kava plant (which looks a bit like ginger) and mix it with a little bit of water. It’s pretty potent so they only give you a bit at a time to try. My husband agreed to be the dummy and have a taste, he said it tasted ‘earthy’ and made his tongue tingle and go numb. After some dancing and singing we headed over to the pool for a water music show with a difference. This involved the local women stepping into a half-filled pool and making the most amazing music using drums and the sound of the water as they hit it with their hands. A couple of the little kids from the village climbed in too and I couldn’t help but notice how happy they were. They seemed very connected to their families and their traditions.

Million Dollar Point

Our final stop in Santo was ‘Million Dollar Point’ which had a $5 per person entry fee. If you’re interested in history then this is a definite point of interest. During World War 2 the Island was used by Allied Forces as a military supply and support base. At the end of the war the American forces dumped most of their equipment here. Wrecks are strewn across the ocean floor from 1m to 15m below water level. The wind had picked up and the water was a bit choppy but we decided to snorkel it and see if we could spot anything. There was tons to see here and the marine life was abundant. The boys swam through what felt like a bait ball of fish and I was lucky enough to spot a Lion Fish.

We loved Santo and would really like to return to explore more of this unique island. It’s one of those places that transports you back to a time when life was a little simpler and more carefree.

Our next stop is Port Vila. It will be our fourth time there and we are keen to see how it’s all changed, it’s been nearly six years since our last visit.